As soon as Ledarius Mack set foot in Chicago, the “grind," as he called it, began.
That’s what happens when your older brother is Khalil Mack.
“Every day, it was like two a days in college,” Ledarius Mack said.
Mack is like every other undrafted free agent in 2020, fighting a steeper-than-usual uphill battle to try to earn a spot on a 53-man roster or practice squad. There are no preseason games for the outside linebacker to put good things on tape for the rest of the league.
There were no minicamps or OTAs, important spring practices for the league’s longest of longshots to find their footing. A truncated training camp meant teams have more urgency to get ready for Week 1, which means fewer reps for traditional “third team” guys.
It's a tough path for any rookie to navigate, let alone someone who wasn't drafted. But Ledarius Mack does have the benefit of not only being on the same team as his brother, but being in the same position group.
“He’s gonna be extra hard on me,” Ledarius Mack said. “So I feel like, with practice, I’ve got to be intentional, especially with my technique and fundamentals, very big on that. … He wants to see me practice with good intentions, good habits and that’s pretty much it from that standpoint.
“And practicing with him and seeing him do some things is like, dang, like wow, you see it up close and it’s always fun to see it up close, how he does things, and how he moves and can get around guys. So it’s definitely eye-opening a little bit.”
Ledarius Mack’s path to Chicago, though, was hardly traditional. He didn’t play football in high school – his high school didn’t even have a team – and instead was big into basketball (no word on if his past gives him an edge in his brother's three-point contests on the basketball court in his home).
He only played two years of top-level college football at Buffalo – where his older brother starred – and had seven sacks and 11 tackles for a loss his senior year there. And now, here he is, trying to make the same team that guaranteed his brother $90 million almost two years ago to the date.
By the way, Ledarius Mack learned about the Khalil Mack trade the same way you did – he saw it on ESPN. He just had a better second source than most to confirm the earth-shattering trade (his mom).
But just because his brother is the best player on the team on which he’s trying to earn a spot does not mean Mack has a place locked down at Halas Hall this year. He still has to put good things on tape, and, crucially, display a knack for playing special teams.
As big bro sees it, though: So far, so good.
“He's jumping out on film,” Khalil Mack said. “Very explosive. Very explosive. You could tell that he's talented.
“The thing that's gonna affect that decision, it's gonna come down to special teams, how he'll be used out there or whatever that may be. But all in all, from what I've seen, I'm proud of him.
“He likes to make plays and I can only think it's got something to do with bloodline. I'm not gonna take any credit.”
Still, it’s hard for undrafted free agents to make 53-man rosters in normal years. Usually only one or two per team – and sometimes none – aren’t waived on cut-down weekend. 2020 presents even more challenges for these guys.
Ledarius Mack’s best-case, probably, is to earn a spot on the Bears’ 16-player practice squad.
That’d be no small achievement, especially in 2020. And as we’ve seen over the last few years, counting out a member of the Mack family is never a good idea.
“(Khalil) showed me what hard work is,” Ledarius Mack said. “And never shy away from it. Always embrace it. You know? There are going to be those days when you’re going to hit a wall. But he has showed me how to work through those things.
“He just gave me that mentality of just break through every door.”